Our not so recent 5-day road trip in Armenia has taught me so much about ancient architecture and country’s tragic history. Even with its long turmoil past, the country has a distinct beauty which is somehow interesting.
From busy city to quiet countryside, from luscious mountains to chilly lakes and from industrial wastelands to a couple of tunnels and dozens of churches, we drove around circling the north part of Armenia in search of ancient monasteries. Out of the plethora of its kind scattered all around the country, we visited few which are mostly old and awe-inspiring.
The first destination thru highway M1-M3 going up north is the Hovhannavank Monastery. This medieval architecture located in the village of Ohanavan was built on the edge of Kasagh River canyon. The view behind the monastery overlooking the canyons and river is simply breathtaking. Head inside to see the humble interior, grab a candle and say a little prayer.
Rolling north thru highway M3 overseeing Mt. Aragats at far left, we re-routed to H21 in Alagyaz town all the way to Harich region, where our second destination is – the Harichavank Monastery. But due to an unforeseen event we unable to visit the church. And so, we directly drove north till we reach the intersection highway M1 then north again to Gyumri and shift to highway H32 going straight ahead to Marmashen where our third destination is – the Marmashen Monastery. This 10th-century complex is situated in the valley of Akhurian River. Surrounded by lush grasses and trees, the monastery is uncrowded and reserve. Though during the weekend, it is a popular picnic area for the locals. Bring some snacks and try a picnic in a local way.
Back to Gyumri, we took highway M7 driving west and then re-routed to highway M3 in Spitak town. With this long and winding road, passing tunnels after tunnels, ruined factories, deserted railways and abundant Caucasus mountains, we reached the town of Darpas. From Darpas town we turn southwest thru highway M6 passing Vanadsor (capital of Lori Province) all the way to Pambak, Vahagnadzor, Vahagni and finally Dzoraget – where our luxury cheap hotel (Tufenkian Avan Dzoraget Hotel) is waiting for us for a night rest.
The following morning after the sumptuous breakfast, we headed up north thru highway M6 until we reach Alaverdi where Sanahin Monastery is still standing firm. This monastery founded in 10th century and listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site. The interior inside is spectacular and the cross engraved in the stones are very detailed. No doubt it is one of the World Heritage sites. If curious enough, see the cemetery meters away behind the church.
Nearby about 15 kilometers to the west is another UNESCO World Heritage Site – the Haghpat Monastery. Built on a hillside overlooking Debed River, the complex is huge and the nature surrounds are heavenly. Expect numbers of organized tourist lining up heading inside.
Out of fun and curiosity, we headed north and lost somewhere on our way. So we retype the coordinates in the GPS to our next destination. Following the device passing rocky, unknown and bending roads, we somehow reach our sixth destination – the Haghartsin Monastery. This monastery is already well renovated and more crowded compared to the other monastery we’ve been to. Though, you can still see the old structure from the pictures place outside.
With no time left, we rush our way navigating highway M4 going to Lake Sevan where we booked a house cottage beside the lake. There are a lot of water sports activities to do in the lake but we don’t have an extra day to stay. Having dinner in one of the restaurants lining up along the road that specializes in grilled fish freshly catch from the chilly lake and home-grown fruits and vegetables is highly recommendable.
On the following day before leaving Lake Sevan, we visited the Sevanavank Monastery. This monastery was completed in the 9th century and located on the peninsula on the shore of the lake. Due to its picturesque and accessibility nearby Yerevan, the monastery is the most visited among tourist. Go around the peninsula, there are many things to see.
Looking forward to two more to visit, we headed southbound thru highway M4-H3 going to Geghard where Geghard Monastery is located. Originally named as “Monastery of the Cave”, this monastery is also among the UNESCO World Heritage Site. With its spectacular location and towering cliffs, some area of the monastery is completely dug out from the cliff rocks which make it more amazing.
After spending an hour in Geghard, we drove south of Yerevan to visit the Khor Virap (Armenian for “deep dungeon”) Monastery where beautiful Mt. Ararat can be seen from afar. This is where St. Gregory was imprisoned for 14 years. If not claustrophobic, climb down into a narrow opening cell where St. Gregory was kept, it somehow gave me goosebumps.
Fulfilled with our lists, we head back to the capital and of course who would leave the country without experiencing what the city can offers? Park your rented car and walk around.
Fascinated by the country, our initial plan of sight-seeing was converted into a pilgrimage.
Enjoy your road trip.